PHOENIX (AP) — An attorney for one of two Arizona woman charged with burglarizing a mosque as they spewed derogatory comments about Muslims said Thursday that his client’s case isn’t about hate speech but rather about her exercise of free speech rights.
Tahnee Gonzales, 32, and Elizabeth Dauenhauer, 51, filmed themselves on March 4 as they removed fliers and Qurans from shelves, bins and bulletin boards in a fenced-in courtyard behind the Islamic Community Center in Tempe, a Phoenix suburb. The two are known for making anti-Muslim statements at political events in the Phoenix area.
In the video, the two women referred to Muslims as devil worshippers, likened them to animals, made sexually derogatory comments about them and claimed Muslims were taking advantage of Americans by using public benefits. One shouted insults at a man outside the mosque who described himself as a practicing Muslim.
The video, posted on Gonzales’ social media account, shows the two women and their children walking past a no-trespassing sign posted on a gate leading into the mosque’s courtyard.
Gonzales and Dauenhauer pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of burglary and aggravated criminal damage. If convicted of those charges, they would face maximum sentences of four years in prison.
Marc Victor, an attorney representing Gonzales, said outside court that his client’s intent in going to the mosque was to make political statements.
Victor said the mosque is open to the public, and that its Islamic center intended for people to take the material that Gonzales and Dauenhauer walked away with. Victor said his client’s speech was protected by the First Amendment.
“This has never been a burglary case,” Victor said. “The only reason this case is charged as burglary case is because of the content of the speech.”
Amanda Jacinto, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting Gonzales and Dauenhauer, declined to comment on Victor’s remarks.
Mark Mendoza, an attorney representing Dauenhauer, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.